Science

Watch Tonight's New Horizon's Flyby of Ultima Thule Right Here

Watch Tonight's New Horizon's Flyby of Ultima Thule Right Here

After a journey of 13 years and 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km), NASA's New Horizons probe had a close encounter with a Kuiper Belt object known as Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST (5:33 a.m. GMT) January 1, 2019, closing to a distance of about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) from the object.

It is part of the Kuiper belt, a region of dwarf planets, comets and interstellar rubble on the fringe of our solar system, left over from the formation of Earth and other planets from a vast cloud of dust and gas some 4.6 billion years ago.

The spacecraft team that brought us close-ups of Pluto will ring in the new year by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world. Some of those discoveries may take a long time, but they'll be worthwhile if they shed light on the Solar System and the cosmos at large.

Nasa will reveal its early findings at a press conference held at 2.45pm United Kingdom time.

The New Horizons probe was slated to reach the "third zone" in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt on Tuesday morning, with scientists having to anxiously wait for hours for an official confirmation via the probe's communications system.

An image of Ultima Thule by NASA's New Horizon spacecraft.

Lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, expects the New Year's encounter to be riskier and more hard than the rendezvous with Pluto: The spacecraft is older, the target is smaller, the flyby is closer and the distance from us is greater.




"We are straining the capabilities of this spacecraft, and by tomorrow we'll know how we did", New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said during the news conference at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. Ultima could be two objects orbiting each other. Owing to the probe's great distance from Earth and the relative weakness of its signal, it took several hours for scientists to receive and process the image.

Ultima Thule is more than four million miles from Earth, making it the farthest ever object ever explored by humanity.

In 2015, New Horizons flew by Pluto, then the farthest object visited by a spacecraft from Earth. He was also inspired to release a new song celebrating New Horizons on New Year's Day.

NASA's live stream of the event was very informative, providing details about the mission and animations to show where the spacecraft was in relation to Ultima Thule.

New Horizons left Earth in January 2006; it was the first mission created to explore the most distant part of the solar system. "We are ready for Ultima Thule science transmissions ... science to help us understand the origins of our solar system".

Ultima Thule is named for a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography, according to NASA.

"It is probably the best time capsule we've ever had for understanding the birth of our solar system and the planets in it, " Stern said. "We'll find out soon enough". The processed image on the right confirms the object's elongated shape. "From here out the data will just get better and better!"